Monday, March 1, 2010

APAL - Past, Present and Future

photo: Actress Jane Fonda and poet Alice Lovelace

An organization like Atlanta Partnership for Arts in Learning (APAL) comes to exist because of dedicated people with a vision. The early and continuing history of APAL is chock full of talented people who have used their knowledge, energy and talent to focus on arts in education. These are people committed to helping students succeed, people who care about education and love their Georgia communities and support the schools. APAL was founded in 2000 by Atlanta educators, artists, and active community members. Founding stakeholders included actress Jane Fonda, executive director of the Center for Urban Education at GSU Dr. Lisa Delpit, and poet Alice Lovelace.

The driving vision was for APAL to create arts infusion partnerships between teachers and artists in the community. APAL's arts infusion method paired a teacher, or teachers with a respected APAL teaching artist, and together they created lesson plans that allowed students to engage deeply with the subject matters and learn subjects in ways that were previously unavailable or unknown to them.

The introductory projects were wildly successful and students learned complex science through theater, danced to an understanding of math, and sculpted a structure into history. By bringing arts into the classroom and directly into the learning experience, APAL offered teachers, students, and artists new opportunities for growth and learning.

In 2000, 2001, 2003-04 APAL funded and facilitated very successful arts in learning partnerships at Benteen Elementary School, John Hope Elementary School, Parkside Elementary School, Charles R. Drew Charter School, Renfroe Middle School, Walden Middle School, KIPP Academy, South Atlanta High School, Grady High School, and the Horizons School. During that time, APAL also developed a professional development series with Atlanta Public Schools.

From 2004-2006 APAL fell into a period of flux as the original leadership shifted and moved on to other challenges. By 2005 the artists who had worked on the front lines delivering quality arts in ed in the schools took over leadership of the organization with the former board's blessing. These artists decided that the opportunities offered by APAL to the arts education community, to the students, the teachers, the communities they served were far too important for the organization disappear. In the fall of 2006 APAL returned to the metro Atlanta community with great gusto, funding three partnerships between teaching artists and educators at Grady High School, North Atlanta High School and again at the Horizons School.

Since 2006, master teaching artists and core APAL-ers Jeff Mather and Barry Stewart Mann have partnered with well known artists in the Atlanta community like Celeste Miller, Nicole Livieratos, Scott Painter, Hilda Willis, Cheryl Myrbo and others to produce quality arts partnerships with schools and teachers. APAL worked hard with the esteemed Kathie deNobriga, arts education consultant, and Arnold Aprill of the Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE)to streamline a new mission and special projects as the org moved forward with renewed passion, creating novel ideas in how to connect the arts and education.

Currently the good news just keeps on coming: Visual teaching artist Jeff Mather and S. Atlanta High School of Law and Social Justice Current Issues (and Teach for America) teacher Alysa Campbell recently worked together on an arts infusion project in Digital Storytelling with enthusiastic 9th graders. In 2009 APAL was awarded a Small & Emerging Grassroots Arts Program grant from Fulton County Arts Council! Also, Barry Stewart Mann developed and worked with high school students on the Disease Awareness Project, successfully infusing drama and storytelling into learning about the science of health issues.

As APAL enters the last year of its first decade, there is much to celebrate and much more to focus on as APAL embraces its mission and commitment to sustained, innovative partnerships between teaching artists and educators with an enlightened trust in artists.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Arts in education in action...APAL style!

It is a fact that learning with and through the arts helps students in all grades and levels develop an understanding of not just the arts but important core curriculum subjects like math and science. APAL teaching artists are well versed in helping students of all ages connect to school subject matter by using their imagination and creating meaningful connections through drama, visual art, dance and music.

Witness what is happening at the South Atlanta High School of Law and Social Justice. Language Arts Teacher Celeste Archer and APAL Drama Teaching Artist Barry Stewart Mann are partnering on an arts infusion collaboration with students in two 11th Grade World Literature classes. The work builds on a two prior partnerships that examined the biology of HIV through Metaphor and Playwriting, and explored the dynamics of Social Health Crisis through Improvisation. They connect with a unit on Richard Matheson's novel "I Am Legend", and through that the Disease Awareness Project is guiding students to develop literary and artistic responses to disease. Each student is creating a portfolio of pieces that uses a composition or performance matched to a disease (breast cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, etc.) to explore human response to the challenges of illness. The students are given broad freedom for personal connection and expression, but are guiding their pieces for middle school audiences; the portfolios are being developed for presentation in performance and exhibit at two middle schools in Atlanta.

Examples of pieces in development by South Atlanta High students include a Fairy Tale about a queen whose love of feasting leads to diabetes, a board game about various pulmonary diseases, and a text message exchange in which two teenage friends wrestle with the challenges of abstinence and a dramatic play scene between characters named Blood and Influenza.

It's fascinating to watch the students connect to science through the arts and see how it helps them to learn, truly learn, about the physiology of and cause and effect in the human body, rather than stare at charts and learn stats by rote and try valiantly to retain information that often doesn’t seem relevant or interesting to them. When you can involve students in their own learning process in a creative manner, they learn.

Learning through the arts is learning for life.